President Barack Obama’s executive order to provide work visas to young Hispanic Americans was met with criticism by those who see the move as an overreach of presidential power and a blow to state policies in Arizona and Alabama that seek to combat illegal immigration.
On Friday, the day of Obama’s official immigration policy announcement, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his tough deportation policies, arrested a 6-year-old girl caught crossing the border. In direct response to the president, Arpaio told a local ABC affiliate that the new policy will make people from Mexico feel more welcome in the U.S., thus increasing the number of illegal immigrants who attempt to cross over.
“I think people from Mexico are now going to feel, ‘Hey come on in and we’ll get by with it.’ But it won’t happen in this country. They will still be arrested,” he told the news station.
The new policy does not overturn border policies, as it grants Hispanics 30 years and younger who entered the country before their 16th birthday and have lived in the U.S. for five years the right to apply for a two-year work visa, which essentially delays deportation considerations for that period of time. Under the new policy, such individuals can reapply every two years for work authorization.
Who’s protected under the policy?
In order to successfully receive the work visa, applicants must prove they have no criminal history and have been in the country for five years. A criminal history would include a felony conviction, ‘significant’ misdemeanor offense or multiple misdemeanor convictions, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
They must also show they have graduated from high school, are currently attending school, or have served in the military.
“These are young people who study in our schools, play in our neighborhoods, are friends with our kids,” Obama said during his announcement Friday. “They pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
Obama said the policy will be acknowledged immediately by the Department of Homeland Security, which will begin to issue work visas within the next few months. Considering such visas will need to be renewed every two years, Obama made clear that this policy should not mark the end of the road in immigration reform.
“Let’s be clear; this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix,” Obama said during Friday’s press conference.
Support from business community
In his White House press briefing, Obama said the new immigration policy is one supported by the business community.
“CEOs agree with me,” he stated.
In response to the president’s announcement, Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp, along with Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and Gilt Groupe CEO Kevin Ryan issued a joint statement praising the move, stating the CEOs’ hopes it will lead to immigration policies that meet labor force needs.
“In the face of Congressional deadlock over immigration reform, the Partnership for New York City applauds the Obama Administration for acting to protect immigrant children from the threat of deportation,” the joint statement says. “We hope this prompts Congress to reach agreement on common sense immigration policies that reflect American labor market needs and American values.”
The CEOs’ statement also expresses sympathy for those who immigrated to the U.S. illegally as small children and have grown up with the knowledge that they are American.
“Young people who had no choice over coming to this country, have grown up here and now want to become productive members of our society should not be treated like criminals,” the statement reads.
It’s no secret that illegal immigrants make up a portion of the U.S. workforce. Even government-mandated systems such as e-Verify are largely ineffective in efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants, as they require business to collect social security number for employees, who can often find ways to purchase such numbers through the black market. That leaves some businesses in a tough spot.
The new announcement applies to roughly 800,000 Hispanics who will now enter the workforce legally.
But not all those on the business side of things see this is a success, arguing that high unemployment rates among U.S. citizens should have deterred the president from granting working rights to who they deem as foreigners.
Others claim those granted with working rights would have continued to stay in the country, working illegally and contributing to the economy. Obama argued in his White House press briefing that many who will benefit under the new policy did not know they were illegal until they applied for a job, driver’s license or college scholarship.
“Put yourself in their shoes,” Obama said. “Imagine you’ve done everything right in your life — studies hard, worked hard — face deportation to a country that you know nothing about — a language you may not speak.”
Obama labeled such individuals as “dreamers,” using the term to highlight the failed DREAM Act, which passed the House, but was rejected in the Senate. Obama criticized Republicans for not passing the legislation, claiming both parties took part in writing the bill, insinuating that the block was a political move.
“I’ve said time and time and time again to Congress that, send me the DREAM Act, put it on my desk and I will sign it right away,” Obama said in his press briefing.
The DREAM Act sought to give those who entered the U.S. as minors, so long as they had a clean record, graduated from high school in the U.S. and had been here for five years, the opportunity to enter a second degree education or the military in exchange for residency.
‘The right thing to do’
If there was a common message throughout the president’s press briefing, it was that the new immigration policy was the right thing to do. Saying it time and time again, Obama declared that those living under the shadow of deportation, who are already contributing to the society and economy, should be granted reprieve from such fears.
Referring to the failed DREAM Act, Obama claimed that inaction led him to make a decision that will address a concern that’s not going away.
“The bill hasn’t changed, the need hasn’t changed,” he said. “It’s still the right thing to do.”
Referring again to the “right thing to do,” Obama indicated that Congress still needs to pass the DREAM Act to give business certainty about workers, including ranchers, farmers and those within the science and technology sectors. He also spoke to the issue of improving border security, which in recent years has been amped up to include 18,000 border patrol workers along the U.S.-Mexican border — an increase of 18 percent from 2008, according to politifact.com, a fact checking news service.
Whether the president deems it the right thing to do or not, he’s likely to be met with those who challenge the power of the president to implement an immigration policy that mirrored legislation which failed to pass through Congress.